A Case for the Guardian Stones

Totally short and random blog post today.  I've been picking up Skyrim again, just in the form of a consistent "quick fix."  It's a thing I'd be doing to kill time when I don't feel like doing anything particularly engaging.  I've played Skyrim enough that it's all pretty much dissected to me at this point, so it can do that.  I've started a new game with it, so the 3 Guardian Stones near the start of the game became relevant to me recently.  For those not already in the know, picking one of these stones let you learn either the Combat, Stealth, or Magic skills 20% faster than normal.  The common wisdom I've heard is that these things are actually bad for you, due to the world leveling up around you (also the same argument for never sleeping, since this also increases your skill gain).  This post is a little analysis of mine on that question.
The question came to mind when, moving through the early parts of the main quest, I came upon the Ritual Stone.  I accepted it, having long agreed with this argument of the Guardian Stones being bad for you, and having an extra ability is better than none at all.  Soon after, something occurred to me that made me go back to them.
Before I get into that, let me go over the reasoning behind why people consider these first stones to be inevitably bad for you.  The world of Skyrim levels up as you do.  That means even when you go into the final boss characters, they'd all be at level 1 if you never advance your level.  I'll admit, I've noticed that things start to get really serious right around level 20.  Suddenly, the whole world seems much more able to outright kill you.  However, even at the base level, your skills can continue to increase.  There's certainly nothing wrong with your skills being good without perks.  The perks also go a long way to helping you deal with the world.  As long as you focus on a particular set of skills, rather than just doing everything, you should still be able to keep up.
The key point that brought me back to these stones is that they let you increase your armor skill!  Nobody seems to really think about this, since their armor rating just seems to go up naturally.  The problem is that you need to actually get hit in order for your skill in armor to increase.  If you ignore your armor training, you might as well not even be wearing any.  It is actually ideal to get hit more at the start of the game when things are weaker, and you can stand to take more hits.  Now, if I'm well rested with the appropriate Guardian Stone giving me this huge skill increase, my armor rating goes up 30% faster than normal!  Suddenly, it doesn't seem like such a bad deal.  Sure, the world gets stronger, but I'll be able to take those hits as easily as I ever did.
Of course, this ignores the Mage Stone, which offers no armor improvement.  What it offers instead is something more subtle (which magic-users often favor, anyway).  As your skill in magic goes up, the cost for your spells goes down, and I'm not even talking in regards to the perks.  It's a slight decrease, but every little benefit adds up.  Of course, the perks do help tremendously in this way, and this allows you to use much more effective spells.  You'll always find more powerful weapons & armor just playing through the game as you level up.  Spells take more effort to acquire, and even when you get them, you probably won't even be able to use them until you get the appropriate half-cost perk.  Higher levels are actually really important to a wizard.
All that said, this does call into question the usefulness of the Lover Stone, which makes all of your skills improve 15% faster.  The benefit is almost as useful as the Guardian Stones, and to a jack of all trades like I tend to play, this sounds really good.  Of course, remember the problem of the world leveling up around you.  If the skills you intend on using are really that varied (perhaps Illusion + Stealth + Heavy Armor to be really stealthy, but durable when that doesn't work out), this may end up being useful, but you have to actually play a much more disciplined game.  You can't afford to do skills outside of your focused skill set just for the sake of your general survival.  Beating the world in the arms race requires focus.  If you're a warrior or wizard, picking locks might not be generally in your skill set, but at least doing so won't make too much of an impact on your level.
Now, I'm not at all suggesting that the Guardian Stones are the best ones to have.  It all depends on your play style, but I would generally suggest that using them at least through the first 20 levels will help get you started very nicely (hence why they're very obviously there when you begin).  Obviously, once your skills start to cap out, the benefit you get from these stones is significantly diminished.  Yes, faster skill increases will lead to faster level increases, which leads to a harsher world.  As long as you pick the one that benefits what effectively are your major skills and you stick by that playstyle, you should be able to handle it.  I certainly argue that the armor or magicka cost benefits alone would merit choosing one of them. 


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